While Congress has been fighting desperately to reduce the deficit the past few weeks, Utah's members of Congress have managed to advance bills to add hundreds of millions of dollars' worth of projects for Utah, including:
- $100 million worth of military construction, most of it beyond what the president proposed in his 1991 budget.- Adding millions for Utah housing and economic development projects, ranging from helping create a West Valley City industrial park to starting a revolving loan account to help attract high-tech businesses to Utah County.
- Adding tens of millions more for Interior Department projects affecting Utah ranging from repairing the flood-damaged Bear River National Wildlife Refuge to building a handicapped fishing facility at Silver Lake in Brighton.
- Adding $13 million for early planning of such transportation projects as a light rail system in Salt Lake County and converting U.S. 89 in Davis County into a freeway.
Also, Congress passed a bill to authorize $100 million in compensation payments to downwind cancer victims of nuclear bomb testing and development. And it is close to passing an bill to authorize spending $894 million more to complete the Central Utah Project.
Depending on whom one believes, all that is either an example of Utah members hypocritically calling for deficit-cutting while still bringing plenty of pork home anyway, or an example of members being effective and getting money for important projects in their districts.
Either way, it has shown some deft moves by Utah's delegation to overcome a budget-cutting atmosphere to advance Utah projects. Among reasons for their success are:
1. Choice committee assignments. Sen. Jake Garn, R-Utah, for example, is on the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee.
He used his spot on the appropriation's defense subcommittee to add much of the extra military construction for Utah.
But appropriations committees cannot spend money on projects that have not been authorized by other committees in their legislation. Rep. Jim Hansen, R-Utah, on the House Armed Services Committee, came in handy, and was able to use it to secure the authorization needed.
2. Balance in the delegation. Having Republicans to deal with the Bush administration and a Democrat to deal with Democratic congressional leaders helped advance bills.
For example, the downwinders compensation bill never came close to passing in previous years until House-sponsor Owens was able to convince Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., to use his key subcommittee chairmanship to push it.
Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, the Senate sponsor, also was able to overcome to work with the Bush administration and persuade it not to veto the bill as once threatened.
3. Skill in cutting deals. That's harder to report on because members don't often talk about it publicly. But they gave some hints about deals that helped the CUP bill.
When the administration called Garn seeking support on its original compromise budget package, Garn seized an opportunity.
"I just said they are asking me to support a budget that I didn't totally agree with, and that I would; but on the other hand, they agreed with most of CUP so I would expect they ought to support it. I was making a comparison," Garn said. But the administration quickly decided to back the bill.
4. Value of the Utah projects proposed. Garn, among others, says the reason Utah had so many projects added to the budget had more to do with their value than member's deals or committee assignments.
The trouble is, members from the other 49 states say the same about their projects - and that will continue to make real deficit reduction elusive.